This place was haunting me from a long time. Twice had failed to make it to this place. This time, luckily, was serendipitous as there were no dropouts – Thanks to the enthu gang, good weather- Thank God, bookings done in time – Thanks KD and flooding the mail servers and inboxes with hundreds of mails(Spam?) – Thanks ME!
I had tough time porting 8 sleeping bags and 2 tents plus my backpack from my office to the Majestic bus terminal. Thanks Srushti and KD for offloading a few. The Rajahamsa left on time without Cuba and Hemanth, who boarded it running haphazardly at the exit of the terminal.
We filled up the last 1/4th of the bus. As usual soft targets were in the firing range with KD, Hemanth, Cuba and myself taking turns at the trigger. Benjamin was busy watching some soap in his ipod. We had to bring down the noise levels whn rest of the passengers looked annoyed. After a small tea break at kamat’s in Hassan, the bus took us to Ujire nonstop. At the end of the journey, I along with Cuba was sitting on the engine bonnet and bus driver was very enthusiastic in informing us about the places nearby and how adventurous he was during his childhood. The bus dropped us at Ujire by 6:30AM.
After a quick breakfast and packing up lunch at a local hotel, we hired a jeep to Mundajje Narayangowda’s house. The jeep driver charged us Rs 300( a bit exorbitant but considering 10 people and lot of luggage we thought not to negotiate) for a 12-14km drive. KD and myself stood hanging outside the jeep while the rest were stuffed inside like vegetables inside a veg bun. It was an awesome experience to stand outside a speeding jeep and at the end of the journey we could even spot the massive Bandajje falls at the hill top(People inside the jeep were not that lucky).
Narayan gowda(NG) was standing outside his old fashioned antique looking yet majestic house( reminded me of my Granny’s house). He asked us to get refreshened and leav asap and the guide(not one, but 2! – He had called another fellow as backup!) was already waiting for us. NG’s wife came out with their grand daughter Tanvi and girls set busy playing with the baby. NG went on to explain that he is a member of zilla panchayat and has plans to come up with a trek guide with trails in the surrounding areas to promote adventure. We appreciated his effort and bid goodbye and started our trek on a trail that begins right beside his house.
There is a definite trail for a few kms(until the stream) and it passes through the elephant trench(made to prevent elephants from attacking villages) and is fully leach infested. The stream crossing without dipping our backpack/shoes/sleeping bags was a little tricky and most of us managed to do it. After a short break, we entered the jungle where there was absolutely no route and the guide’s knowledge of the area was all we had to trace the correct route. The climb was quite steep and after about 3 hours of uphill and missing the route once or twice we managed to reach the exit point of forest. It was 1:30PM by then and we decided to have lunch before hitting the sunny grasslands.
Benjamin , Sangram and Poonam had gone well ahead of us and we started very late after lunch.The uphill trek continues even in the grasslands and one can see the head of the Bandajje waterfall after about an hour of trek. We found some shade under a tree and rested for an hour or so( No water). The discussions and topics in that one hour was one of the most fun filled times in my trek life!!(@Srushti, Bindu, KD, Saritha, Cuba and Hemanth: I’m too much tempted to write! but, i’ll hold on ;-) ) Its only when someone stopped laughing – after a good one hour or so, that we realized we are far behind an d the guide was waiting for us a KM away under the hot Sun.
The next 2 hours was a steep, never ending uphill climb on the grasslands. The surroundings looked hazy because of the heat. On reaching the top, we could see the head of the waterfall faintly visible behind the tree line. We climbed down the slippery path to reach the head of the Bandajje falls. In no time we dumped our bags and ran with our cameras to capture the bewildering drop of the waterfall and stunning sunset. It takes more than courage to bow down and look at the chasm from the cliff.
Back at the campsite just beside the watercourse, Benji was busy fetching firewood and preparing tea while the rest of us started pitching tents. It was fast getting dark and the gushing winds repeatedly blew away the pitched tents. Later we had to dump bags stones inside to keep it at one place. Benjamin was more than happy to boil water for the ready to eat cuppa-mania dinner and prepare tomato soup to everyone. The spicy khatta meeta topping added the flavor to the dinner. The after dinner discussions was filled with PJs and anecdotes. It was a full moon night and the wilderness of the forest was getting creepier when the topic turned to ghost stories. Girls escaped one by one to the tent and hid inside their sleeping bags(out of fear? ;-) ). I had a good night’s sleep but somebody claimed they heard elephants nearby (later villagers confirmed it).
Come Sunday morning, we could not afford to be lazy. We had to leave early and it is not so easy to pull people out of water when they are in playing mood. We had to smother a few, threaten the rest before everybody were set to start. The trek continued in the grassland. It was very sunny and we could spot Elephant dung everywhere. After crosing a few hills, we could see the Ballarayan durga fort a sweet 3 hills further. I paced up along with Benjamin, Bindu and Srushti while the rest were far far behind. On reaching the base of the hill on which the fort stood, we could see a gunman and another fellow. They had disappeared when we reached the fort though. (There was another group who had come from sunkasaale just to visit the fort – They had a gunman too! )
The fort is a ruin. There is nothing inside apart from a compound. It looks like a small wall of china :-). There is a watch tower which gives 360 degree view of the surroundings. The place offers breathtaking view of western ghats and the green carpeted mountains are just mind boggling!
We rested for a while inside the fort and had our lunch by the time rest of the people dropped in. By 2PM we started downhill which seemed to be a easy route. After about 2 hours of trek we reached a temple at the base of the hill and rested there for a while before hitting the jeep track. It is about 8Kms to Sunkasaale from this place and we availed auto service available for the last 5kms. On reaching Sunkasaale we bid goodbye to our guides (paid them Rs.700, 300 per day and Rs.100 for traveling back). By the time we had tea at a local shop, A bus to Horanadu stopped at the bus stop and we got in. There is a bus every half an hour from 5PM to 6:30 PM to Horanadu, the autowala said. Horanadu is about 30kms from Sunkasaale and the bus passes through Kalasa.
We had our bus booked at 9:30 from Horanadu. Since we had wnough time, we booked 2 rooms to freshen up and visited the famous Annapoorneshwari Temple. We had the prasadam dinner at the temple hall and boarded the bus on time. (Just on time, as 4 poeple went missing and the rest had tough time finding them!)
The bus dropped us in Bangalore Majestic bus terminal by 6:30 and we all parted promising to meetup on a dinner someday the same week. And, we DID. Had a rocking time, AGAIN!
* There are two possible routes: Mudajje – Bandajje falls – Ballarayandurga fort – Sunkasaale in that order OR in reverse order. I do not suggest reverse order as it takes out the fun and beauty of the route.
*Take a bus from bangalore to Ujire (All Kundapur bound buses ply this route)
*Jeeps are available from Ujire to Narayangowda’s house. Call him up well in advance and know the weather conditions, rainfall and guide availability.
*For the return journey, book Horanadu – bangalore 9:30 PM bus. One can reach Horanadu comfortably from Sunkasaale. About 32kms. KSRTC buses ply this route from 4:30PM to 5:30PM (around 3 buses)
*camp just beside the Bandajje falls. There is a small campsite where one can pitch 3 tents.
*On the 2nd day, Leave the campsite as early as possible. One can enjoy the mist filled meadows on the way to fort. It gets really hot later.
*Carry fire crackers (Helps scare elephants away)
*carry enough water. Only water resource – Bandajje waterfalls.